When the Covid-19 pandemic struck in March, it seemed to many people as though life moved online. From video conferences with housebound colleagues to Zoom quizzes with family and friends, a huge increase in digital communication not only overloaded the home wi-fi connections of many employees, but also created a new appreciation of what could be achieved online.

So, although the coronavirus crisis has created severe difficulties for businesses in all sectors, a leading provider of managed IT services was perhaps one of the firms best placed to adapt. Milton Keynes-based Managed, which was named one of the UK’s top IT companies by the Sunday Times’ Tech Track 100 in 2016, is focusing on growth, using a £2m loan from BOOST&Co to implement the growth strategy it formulated in February – just before the pandemic broke out.

Managed offers shared or dedicated IT service desks, enabling its customers (mid-market and enterprise organisations, mostly in the private sector) to resolve issues quickly by contacting analysts via online portal, email or phone. Clients can access a broader range of skills than is typically found in internal IT departments, also benefiting from reduced costs, and monitoring and analytics help to maintain a high-quality service. What’s more, Managed’s engineers are thought leaders in their field, keeping customers ahead of the game as they create the tools of the future – and it is this aspect of their work that the funding will support.

“In 2016, we realised that many traditional IT monitoring and automation tools were having to be hugely customised to deal with the abundance of IT systems, networks and applications. So we decided to build our own platform, funding the development from our profits year on year,” says chief executive John Pepper, who founded the firm in September 2009. “This loan is our first external investment, and it will play a crucial role in speeding up our software’s time to market.”

Easing the transition to a digital future

The product in question aims to solve some of the problems caused by digital transformation. “There’s a tsunami of problems coming to IT service companies, because the average business has probably tripled the number of things connected to its network over the past five years, but there aren’t triple the number of qualified staff sitting on service desks ready to monitor these systems. Covid-19 has exacerbated this,” Pepper says.

Having realised that there was no software on the market that would enable IT technicians to look after a number of assets simultaneously, speeding up decision-making and “resolving incidents faster – even, potentially, before they occur”, the chief executive’s next step was to develop a groundbreaking monitoring tool that will enable large organisations to make decisions more quickly, by processing huge amounts of data in real time.

The holy grail was to create an application that would enable one engineer to do the work of ten people – but this will not put nine others out of a job, Pepper says. Rather, the product “will actually create another nine jobs, for people to take on as much work as future demand can create. It’s like the cockpit in an aircraft: you still have two people sitting there, but they’re not pulling every lever. It does a lot of the grunt work so that humans can do the more intelligent stuff,” he says.

This technological advance means that Managed can deliver small-, medium- or large-scale deployment of multi-tenant monitoring, automation and orchestration of the most complex IT estates. Large organisations such as banking institutions are among those that could benefit, as are the company’s competitors. “It started out as a tool we wanted to develop for ourselves, but the interest shown by other service providers and large corporate organisations has proved that is it bigger than an internal tool,” Pepper says.

Sector proves its strength amid difficult conditions

Digital transformation has accelerated as a result of Covid-19, with the pandemic prompting a surge in the number of people working from home and a growth in demand in the tech sector during the first half of the year. “There was a huge initial spend on remote-working technology across all sectors, as businesses moved from all-office to all-remote working – a shift that has made it a privilege to work in an office,” Pepper says. “Like many in our sector, we’ve deployed Microsoft and Cisco applications to enable clients to work from anywhere, and we’re continuing to provide support.”

Managed, which prides itself on supplying all of its 24-hour IT support and services from within the UK, already works with teams across the country. The company, which has more than 85 employees, is using part of the funding from BOOST&Co to “put some rocket fuel in our jet pack” for commercial and marketing activity and to hire new staff – but the biggest challenge during the pandemic, the chief executive says, has been helping new starters to feel like part of the team.

“Enabling people to work remotely using the correct tools is actually not the biggest issue,” he says. “We are, first and foremost, a people business. There’s a perception that working from home is great, but some have found it difficult, and employers have to be aware of that. If you’re balancing your lunch on your lap and sharing a house with ten people and you have five kids and an awful internet connection, it can be horrific.”

Pepper has ensured that his company has addressed these challenges throughout the pandemic, for the sake of both new and existing employees. “We’ve helped some of our staff with their broadband costs and have opened the office where we can, to give people a bit of breathing space,” he says. “We’re spending a lot more time with new starters, so our onboarding has changed dramatically, too.”

Good relationships are the bedrock of growth

Businesses with a positive company culture have perhaps fared best in the crisis; conversely, Pepper has been shocked to hear that some firms have attempted to use software to spy on their staff. “I would never advocate technology that would spy on people like that,” he says. “The UK workforce has probably recorded an increase in productivity during the pandemic, because most people are putting in far more hours than they should be. And if you really think that you have staff you need to spy on, why did you employ them in the first place? Maybe you need a new HR manager!”

Far more productive is the relationship between Managed and BOOST&Co, with the lender remaining committed to funding innovative, high-tech firms that are targeting continued growth in the wake of Covid-19. “We talked to lots of investors during 2019/20, but BOOST&Co was always in pole position; we felt that they ‘got’ us, because we were speaking the same language from the start,” Pepper says. “For our first investment, we wanted to find people we could work with in the long term, and BOOST&Co came across as enthusiastic and energetic, too. Our relationship is a true partnership.”

Managed is going from strength to strength – the business was named best IT managed service provider by the industry bible CRN for three consecutive years, between 2016 and 2018 – and its new software application will be trialled by a household name in 2021. “The impact of the funding has already been felt: we’ve increased the amount of development work we’re doing and have hired new people for our commercial team,” Pepper says. “We always wanted to use these funds to grow quickly, so the shackles are off in terms of our plans.”

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